Dem Debate – “In the Room Where it Happens”

Debate #7, Iowa, Washington Post

“In the Room Where it Happens”

The Democratic debate in Iowa, hosted by CNN was two days ago, a lifetime, I know, given our rapid-fire news cycles. But, before the Senate Impeachment proceedings occupy us entirely, there are things to say. Six candidates were on the stage: Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar. There are several more candidates who did not qualify by DNC rules: Michael Bennet, Mike Bloomberg, Deval Patrick, Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney, and Andrew Yang. So we had six on the debate stage and six who did not qualify. This was the last debate before the Iowa primaries, much maligned for their lack of diversity and their use of caucusing, which is unfamiliar to most Americans.

The criticism of the debate that I heard most often was that the Dems who make it to the debate stage are too bogged down in policy and are not speaking enough about their ideals and what they will do to inspire and unite Americans. Clearly the six debates in 2019 already covered policy quite thoroughly, and although this debate, the first of six in 2020 did add some discussion of foreign policy, responses to the recent assassination of Soleimani in Iran, how each candidate sees the role of the President relative to war, and whether or not each would bring troops home from the Middle East, exactly which troops and from what countries, health care still took up a lot of oxygen once again. I don’t think we can actually expect the Dems to hammer out the health care plan they will finally design right there on the debate stage with strict rules about the duration of any spoken answers.

The issues of whether Bernie Sanders actually said to Elizabeth Warren that a woman could not be elected to the Presidency, and whether he meant in 2020 or ever, remains a moot point since only the two were present when he said it or didn’t say it. Elizabeth was castigated in the press for going after Bernie in public, but there is also the point that someone who does not back away from confrontation might make a good Chief Executive for the United States of America.

So perhaps it is time to be a bit more abstract and ‘airy fairy’ about the political ideals candidates bring to the table and how they perceive the role of the American federal government. And perhaps it is time to present some of the policies of the current occupant of the oval office that are less than acceptable to those of us who think of the republic as ours rather than Trump’s. Perhaps it is time to highlight the ways in which Trump’s policies have favored white supremacist views that most of us find abhorrent, or at least as something we must guard against, rather than revel in. Perhaps it is time to show why, although his economic policies seem to have America booming, dark clouds could be on the horizon. It is definitely past time to keep letting him skate by as a climate denier in order to allow the wealthy oil and gas investors to keep using old and dangerous energies, thus holding back the innovation of newer, cleaner energies. These new energies may someday prove to have their own dark sides, but right now we need them to fight the global warming which could make our children’s lives dystopian. There are so many Trump policies which make many Americans squirm that I’m sure any panel of debate hosts can come up with quite a list of topics to discuss along these lines.

But what I did enjoy about the debate on Tuesday was all the wonky arguing about policy, the very thing the press deplored. The arguments about health care plans interests me, and how to lower drug prices, and how to help working Americans, and the schooling of Americans, and how all-out to go on fighting climate change and pollution. In a way it felt as if the Democrats were already in charge of the Presidency and Congress and we were all ‘in the room where it happens” with them. It felt like a glimpse of a post-Republican dominated government, and it was a good feeling not to be shut out or insulted, talked down to and demonized. The Republicans used to all have the same list of “talking points” and speak of them as if they were the new ten commandments. At least when Democrats disagree on policy we can see that we will not get a party that has sold out its soul to win, but instead, a party that still values creative process and discussion, things at the heart of a healthy democracy.  

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